Malaki One

Like most of you reading this, I am not blessed with much in the way of “spare time.” So when I have a few moments when I am not booked either personally or professionally, I try hard to keep it that way. That doesn’t seem to be working out too well. “Busy” people are busy because they have many hobbies and professional and family life obligations. And for me, on top of everything else, there is coaching youth sports.

Between my little brother and two young sons, I am right at 20 years of summer evenings telling kids to “keep your eye on the ball” or “get your glove down” and many winter nights in a gym of “that wasn’t the shot we were looking for,” or, “roll after you set the screen.” I would not trade my long-lasting friendships with the kids for anything, and I get a lot of fulfillment from attempting to teach them valuable life lessons through the playing of sports.

However, over the last several years, I have at times questioned my involvement. I have been increasingly frustrated by the lack of sportsmanship, character, and even ethics in youth sports. The win-at-all costs mentality that I can place squarely on the shoulders of some of the coaches and parents is not and should not be considered acceptable by anyone. And so it was a welcome relief to see, if only for a moment, that some coaches, players, and families still “get it.”

On a recent Sunday, our fifth grade basketball team played in a tournament against perennial powerhouse Corpus Christi. Our Holy Rosary team had won only two regular season games all year. Then we started pool play in the tournament and won both games over the weekend. (Note to basketball fans … think of Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas teams “40 Minutes of Hell.”) Unfortunately, due to circumstances, three starters would be unavailable against Corpus Christi. That would prove to not be helpful.

Well, the predictable happened, and although our boys gave it what they had against the team that would go on to win the tournament, it was painful. With around a minute left and losing by 30, I had a conversation with Jerry Blanton, the Corpus Christi coach. Enter Malaki Peterson, a small-of-stature young man who always “enlivened” the practices and games for us this year. Malaki struggles to get the ball to the rim in practice but was always there and had incredible support from his teammates. Malaki had barely touched the ball in his appearances this year, and we were going to do something about that. With about 30 seconds left, we called a timeout. We huddled and made up a play called “Malaki One” under the basket. My son Jackson took the ball out and Malaki, who I told three times to “catch the ball, first” did just that and promptly threw it back to Jackson, who was still standing out of bounds. The officials called a “violation” on Corpus Christi, and we set it up again. The pass came in, he caught it and up it went and in the hoop – first attempt! The crowd from both sides was ecstatic, and several of our players and fans were a bit teary as well. So, for all of the tirades about declines in sportsmanship from players, coaches, and fans – just remember Malaki Peterson and the character and sportsmanship that we saw from Corpus Christi’s fifth grade basketball team. I know I will – that’s why I keep coaching. Malaki will remember, too, for the rest of his life.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Todd A. Tucker

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